Mickey Mouse is one of the most popular cartoon characters in Japan, in line with beloved domestics like Totoro, Doraemon and Hello Kitty. But 80 years ago that certainly wasn’t the case, at least not according to a 1934 propaganda film that cast Mickey as an evil invader that’s come to terrorize a happy island community.
In the animated film, released just 8 years before pearl harbor, Mickey Mouse arrives by air, followed by a group of alligators by sea that perhaps symbolize a U.S. Navy fleet. The islanders turn to a fairy tale book for help and out come legendary Japanese fairy tale characters like Momotaro, Kintaro, Issunboshi and Urashima-Taro. Fairy tale characters coming to life is an animation trope that will become widely used later on, and as Open Culture points out, the underlying message here is that Japan has older, stronger and way more numerous fairytale characters.
Spoiler alert: in the end, Mickey is turned into an old, decrepit mouse by a white plume of smoke by Urashima-taro, who had undergone a similar fate in his fairy tale.
The film is the 3rd in a series called “Omochabako” (toy box) and was created by Yoshitsugu Tanaka and others at J.O. Studio, which later merged with other film studios to become Toho, one of Japan’s most well-known theater production and distribution companies.